League newcomer proves a worthy replacement for Tulsa as Rainbow rival
THOSE guys were dangerous. This one was big. Hawaii is 1-0 in Western Athletic Conference play now, and that's huge, against a team like this.
And the WAC may have just bounced back just fine.
Turns out, in basketball, it was a pretty decent trade.
Hawaii may have found another Tulsa, yesterday. The WAC may have. That's what it felt like. They were that good. The game was that tough, that wild and -- even with a modest crowd -- that loud.
I think we're all going to like this UH rivalry with Utah State.
"We stuck together," Hawaii's Matt Lojeski would say, after 20 points and three blocks, after hounding Aggies ace Jaycee Carroll all over the court. "We stayed in our stuff. It was a little shaky at times. We stuck together and ended up pulling it out."
That's what kind of game it was.
"It was exactly like I thought it would be," Riley Wallace would say.
It had blocked shots, nine by the 'Bows, four from Ahmet Gueye, including an exclamation-point cap of Carroll on a 3 attempt at the top of the key in the middle of a crucial stretch. It had tough defense. Rebounds -- seven tough ones by a determined Julian Sensley in an intense second half.
"I thought we did much better defensively, and you've got the leading field-goal-percentage team in the country (Utah State) and in the second half we didn't give them any good looks," Wallace said.
"Coach got on us about our intensity and to start the second half the way we started the first half," Sensley said.
Or, rather, he didn't. Not really. This is a different team, Wallace said. Different guys. Different year. Different coach. He gives them time to themselves, at halftime, he said. Time to gather. Time to think. Time alone.
Then, right before they're ready to go out, ahem, "we get them fired up."
It worked. Sensley played with ferocity, seizing loose balls, cutting to the hoop and posting up rather than always fading away. There was Gueye, blocking shots, popping jumpers.
"That was scary," Wallace said, of Gueye's new outside game.
"I didn't know he was going to unveil it tonight," Wallace said.
Deonte Tatum, steady. All three of his baskets coming when UH needed them most. John Wilder, solid, in spot play. Chris Botez, four points, four rebounds, four fouls. You need guys like that in games like this.
And Matthew Gipson, his name all over the notebook during the rigorous stretch in which the Rainbows made "toughness" plays, and wrestled it away for good.
When it was as loud as it's been all year. Maybe louder than Michigan State.
"We feed off that energy," Lojeski said. "If things don't go right at first they're always there."
"It feels good," Sensley said.
It was like Tulsa.
"It was," Lojeski said, "basically getting through the times that were tough."
That's what it was like. It was like a Tulsa game. Tulsa without the rivalry. Tulsa without the backstory. Without the history.
But I have a feeling all that is going to be coming soon enough.